It was good to have a weekend off and while it was flooding down on the Cote d’Azur, Paris was pleasant and I spent Saturday nosing around at an antique fair, finding very little except some spectacular postcards printed from glass plate negatives from the early years of the sport. However at €25 a card, I thought this was rather excessive… The F1 world has been relatively quiet after the flurry of activity resulting from the World Council, and from October 1 option dates. I was surprised that Haas did not name Esteban Gutierrez as well as Romain Grosjean, but I guess that this will be done in the days leading up to the forthcoming Mexican Grand Prix.
The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez was officially reopened at the weekend with Mexico City’s Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera joined by Sergio Perez and Emerson Fittipaldi. Perez drove an ex-Pedro Rodriguez Yardley BRM P153. Among those present for the festivities was former Mexican F1 driver Héctor Rebaque, who raced a Hesketh when he made his F1 debut back in 1977. He would later buy ex-works Lotus 78s and 79s and ran his own team before asking Penske to design a Rebaque F1 car. This was not a success and in the end Rebaque bought himself a seat with Brabham in the second half of 1980 and in 1981. Rebaque was ultimately replaced by Riccardo Patrese and went to the US where he managed to win a CART race at Road America.
The mayor said that there is still a fair bit of work to be done in the next month before F1 returns to Mexico for the first time in 23 years. I attended the last few Mexican GPs, back in the 1990s, and I have to admit that I did not much enjoy the experience, but they tell me that much has changed in the city since those days. This is what I wrote about the last visit in 1992.
Mexico City is not the kind of place one goes to for a holiday. There are seventeen million people crammed into this metropolis – give or take the odd 100,000. It is overcrowded and horribly polluted. As the Formula 1 circus rolled into town, the city was undergoing a record-beating bout of pollution – four times the accepted international safety levels. It has never been a popular sport for F1 folk – apart from the money-brokers – the only real attraction being the corner they call Peraltada. The corner to beat them all. A place for heroics. If Eau Rouge at Spa is the great corner of the old world, Peraltada is the great corner of the new world. A huge 180-degree banked curve, it was a place to tell the men from the boys – or in these egalitarian times in F1, the boys and the girl. The trouble was that the Peraltada was dangerous. Last year Ayrton Senna turned a McLaren upside-down and committees began to meet. The Peraltada must be changed. There were rumours of two 90-degree corners, but in the end they decided to keep the trace of the corner – but do away with the banking. At the same time, in an effort to stop the complaints about the bumps of Mexico City, they decided to relay various odd bits of tarmac here and there. The result was a disaster. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was always bumpy, but now it was worse than ever – and the great Peraltada was more dangerous.
“It is 10 times as bad as last year,” said Senna. “An accident is inevitable.”
And so it was. Just a few minutes into first practice Jean Alesi’s Ferrari went light over the bump at the entry, spun around and ploughed off the track into the run-off – in a huge cloud of dust. Jean was lucky, he didn’t hit the wall. All around the track the car were jumping willy-nilly…”
The Peraltada is now part of history. After F1 left Mexico a few months after the above words were written, they built a baseball stadium, called the Foro Sol, on the land inside the Peraltada. This meant that when it came to reviving the track there was a problem. There was no space on the outside of the corner because the circuit backs on to a major thoroughfare called the Avenida Río Churubusco. The corner could not be moved to create suitable run-off, because the stadium was in the way. So the F1 track this year will run into the stadium, through some slow corners and will exit in the middle of what was the Peraltada.
Before all this, however, we have to go to Sochi…